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Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Airhole Truth

I've just finished the pipe shown above.  In the process, I was spurred to write this quick article because I was happily listening to my audiobook ("The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie", a pretty amusing mystery) as I filed out the bit slot interior, checking every so often to measure the draw.  I had recently been reading a somewhat technical discussion of optimal airhole sizes and it struck me that I never measure anything - Never have, really.  This is the sort of thing that sets the lore collectors in a tizzy because they like talking in very detailed terms about such facets of a pipe, and what is right and wrong and so forth, but I really find the "truth", in this case, to be so malleable that I've seen no need for rules set in stone.

The key is (in my opinion) not in any specific size but in the feel of the draw.  I approach it from an intuitive perspective, not a scientific one.  Some pipes have odd bends, flatter bits, thicker bits, unusual internals, etc, and the draw needs to be adjusted accordingly.  This is the kind of thing I do on the fly - Gnerally I'll start with a 9/64" airhole for most simple shapes, or a 5/32" airhole for anything bent or more complex.  But for me, the most crucial aspect of getting the internals right is not in doing complex mathematical calculations of internal CFM and velocity, but in getting the feel of it right.  That's almost a microcosm of how I work in general.  Shaping a bit and the bit slot is a probing process to me - I start out small and widen it, then test as I go... First, will it pass a cleaner easily?  That's the first hurdle.  I don't like pipes that I have to fight to get a cleaner into, so I keep some spares on hand and check the ease of the passage as I'm drilling. 

Once the bit will pass a cleaner, the next step is for it to feel right.  Yes, there's that F word again...  And in 13 years of fulltime pipemaking, I have yet to find a better method, because I don't want the draw to be too open any more than I want it to be too restricted.  Restriction is the obvious foe, of course, so that's what I work at first - I just use hand tools to widen the V slot until I gradually enlarge it enough that I can draw through it easily.  The perfect draw, for me, is effortless but controlled - Where one can just barely inhale to bring smoke easily through the stem, without it being so open that there's no resistance whatsoever (That's usually a recipe for a hot-burning bowl and too many tobacco bits in the mouth). 

My deepest apologies to anyone who saw the post title and rushed in hoping for detailed technical specifications that would render a great smoke if followed by rote, but alas, I can only write from personal experience.  And that experience is that every pipe is different - Sometimes, a bend or a stem material or a different drill bit will create something unexpected, and even though the specs match what should commonly work on a pipe of that sort, it doesn't... I'll test draw from it and find it's oddly tight, and need to get in there and do some opening. Touchy feely?  Perhaps, but this is one of several areas of life where I've found that my intuition provides me with better results than my logical thinking side. 

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Doing the Social

A curious thing has happened over the past few years - With the emergence of social networking like Twitter and Facebook, our business and personal lives have been merging as never before.  Sometimes this is fun, because some folks want to learn more about who they buy from as people.  Other times, it's unwanted or uninteresting...  The guy who wants to follow our pipe business updates only is not going to be interested in hearing what movie I watched last night.  When I initially set up our Facebook and Twitter accounts, I did so without much thought, setting them up as "myself", and I treat them both (My personal Facebook profile and my Twitter account) pretty darned informally.  This means that over the past couple of years, followers of our accounts have gotten to see vacation photos, movie reviews, random ranting, and a whole lot of other non-pipe-related posting. 

I am now offering an optional escape from this.  For a while now, I have had a Facebook business page set up as different from my own - Talbert Pipes on Facebook.  This account is ALL business, and that's where I post things like workshop news, previews of coming pipes, sketches, etc.  This way, the people who are interested in the pipe business can "Like" and follow our business page and be spared from my personal account updates on things like the new Godzilla movie. 

The same alternative has now come to Twitter.  I've just set up a dedicated business account, Talbert Pipes on Twitter, to use exclusively for pipe business.  Anyone who has been frustrated that my personal Tweets have usually been inane and non-pipe-related should hie themselves hence and follow that account rather than mine, because in future that Talbert Pipes account will mirror our Facebook biz account in sharing workshop news, site update notices, previews, and so forth.  My personal account will remain as random and bizarre as always. 

Finally, there is another little addition coming soon.  I've been reviewing a lot of movies for a private forum for some time now, and inspired by my buddy ZG, I'm going to carry some of those reviews over into my own personal movie review blog...  Sort of a "Pipe Guy's Eye on the Movies".  I think many pipe folks would say they have a unique perspective on things, and maybe some of that will carry over and help it be something more than yet another movie review blog.  Probably not, but one can hope.  Look for more news on this as it develops!

Monday, February 07, 2011

Form Letter Madness

I sit down to write today having just finished packing up four Ligne Bretagnes for shipment.  As tends to be the case, a couple are going to new buyers and a couple are going to repeat buyers.  I like the mix.  It's good to have repeat buyers, but at the same time, one does not want to end up selling everything to the same handful of collectors.  It does, however, spur me to post about a Talbert quirk that has been developing for some time.

Anyone who has bought from us in recent years will probably recognize this:

Enclosed you should find your pipe, its bag, and this letter. I hope you will like the pipe, and that it will smoke well for you. Please let me know if you have any problems with it. We guarantee our work, so if there is anything you don't like about it, you can return it for a full refund (prior to smoking), within the period of a week after it arrives. Thank you very much for the business, and we appreciate your interest in our work!

That's our basic form letter that I include with every pipe so people can know what to expect, what the return policies are, and to provide a signed "Thank you" for every purchase.  This is all well and good.  Then, as usual, it began to get silly...

I'm not sure exactly when the trend started, but some time a year or two ago, I was getting ready to print out yet another form letter to a fellow who'd already bought probably eight or ten pipes from us.  I figured, "He knows this by now", and included some random add-in comment about, "This box includes your pipe, its bag, yadda yadda, and this same freaking form letter". Doing this established a precedent, and it's grown since then.  It tends to start small...  After someone's fourth or fifth pipe, they might start to see small alterations in the form letter text.  This can progress to random inserted comments, Lovecraftian verse, quotes from Quint in "Jaws", and eventually escalate all the way to this sort of thing:
Where will it end?  Who knows.  Where is it going?  Probably on to start including bits of Talbert doodles, sketches, riddles, freebies, and who knows what else.  How many pipes do I have to buy before this stuff starts?  I'll never tell.  Too many, probably.  Enough so that I finally reach the point of thinking, "He's read this so many times that even including the text is pointless, beyond saying 'Thank you for the business'".  Will these signed letters start becoming collectible alongside their matching pipes?  No collector would be that crazy.  Would he? 
Thank you ALL for the business, and we appreciate your interest in our work!